National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 14 (April 21–27)
This week, hoooo boy — I can’t tell if the entire Trump administration did a bunch of mushrooms or somebody snuck some in my cereal and I’m the one that’s high. I’ll do my best to break it down, but this week was pretty much one long, bad trip through Wonderland. And we didn’t even get to meet a dormouse.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a booster shot! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corner
Somehow, the Russia Investigation and its related aftermath just remain the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s what I have for you this week:
- Remember the Russia Bit of ‘Russia Investigation?’* (Apparently nobody in this administration does, if this past week was any indication.) Russian operative Maria Butina was given an eighteen-month sentence this week, but she was credited with significant time already due to being held pretrial, so she’ll be sent back to Russia in only about nine months. Meanwhile, this administration refuses to rule out using hacked info in their reelection campaign, and no serious changes to election practices have been suggested despite news in the Mueller report that Russian operatives successfully targeted and hacked at least one Florida county government in 2016. And Trump called the Russia investigation, not Russian espionage, “an attempted overthrow of the U.S. government” even though Mueller literally found evidence that Russia hacked us to override our election process. The move had former CIA Director, John Brennan, dismissing his statements as “sociopathic ramblings,” and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein just straight-up quit instead. That last bit won’t mean anything good, so I’ll keep folks posted on developments from here.
- Further Weird Mueller Aftermath.* Trump’s behavior continued to be all over the place this week, but it took some wild turns on matters Mueller-related in particular. First he tweeted fifty times in a 24-hour period about the investigation, which apparently even Twitter thought was excessive because they removed 5,000 of his best fake followers afterwards. Joke’s on Jack Dorsey, though, because then he was forced to sit through a meeting with Trump where 45 outlined all his complaints, which is definitely how a leader of the free world should spend his time. Then Trump got into some protracted fights with Congress, which I’m outlining separately below, and followed that up by taking to the Twitters again to announce that he’ll sue Congress if they manage to impeach him. That’s… not how it works, in case anyone was curious.
There was only one major story regarding Disregard of Governing Norms, but it’s a new level of egregious. Here’s what happened:
- Oversight? More like Over That, Amirite* The White House went obstruction-happy this week in an unprecedented way, ordering first former White House personnel security director Carl Kline not to testify before Congress and then extending that order out to include basically everybody who has ever worked for this administration. Then Congress started threatening to hold everybody in contempt if they refused to comply, which made the White House change its tune. But then after all that, Attorney General Barr started refusing to testify before Congress because they plan to have actual lawyers question him about his treatment of the Mueller report. So now Congress is threatening to subpoena him. After all that, it’s no wonder that Rosenstein threw up his hands and quit, yeesh.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- International Ickiness. In gross international news, Benjamin Netanyahu, who against all odds is somehow still Prime Minister of Israel, announced that he wanted to name a settlement in Golan Heights after Donald Trump. And news also broke that North Korea billed the United States $2M for the care of comatose prisoner Otto Warmbier. Trump’s insisting he didn’t pay them, but Trump never pays anybody if he can avoid it so that’s not saying much.
- 20 Candidates and Counting. Joe Biden announced his presidential candidacy this week, bringing us to an even 20 candidates for the Democratic nomination. Five of those candidates had a televised town hall this past week, and the biggest takeaway was definitely several candidates’ opinions about enfranchisement of incarcerated constituents. (It turns out that Sanders is for enfranchisement, Buttigieg is against it, and Harris isn’t sure. I’m judging you, Pete Buttigieg.)
- SCOTUS Scuttlebutt. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the proposed census citizenship question this week, and the conservative majority asked a lot of questions that suggest they will let the citizenship question stand. (That’s not great news for Team Civil Rights, because it’s likely to have all kinds of ill effects for noncitizen denizens.) Against that backdrop, it’s pretty nerve-wracking that they also agreed to hear a case about whether gay and trans people have workplace protections, but we’ll have to see how that one goes.
- Awful California Violence.* A gunman entered a synagogue in San Diego during Passover Shabbat services on Saturday and started shooting, killing one person and injuring three more. It’s the second instance of gun violence in a synagogue in about six months, and just like last time, Trump took the uncharacteristic step of actually condemning the shooting. His statements make an odd counterpoint in the same week he announced he stands by his Charlottesville remarks — and for that matter, the same week that Netanyahu announced Golan Heights will be named after him — but highlight 45’s complex relationship with American Jewish people.
- Social Media Screwups.* Facebook and Twitter appear to be competing for people’s ill will this week, which has been kind of morbidly fascinating. Facebook is expecting a record-setting $5B fine this week for its many, many privacy violations, though the axe hasn’t yet dropped at the time that I type this. Meanwhile, Twitter is gaining attention for refusing to use the same algorithm to remove white supremacists that it used to weed out ISIS supporters. According to the Motherboard article that first flagged the issue, the source of reluctance was the belief that the algorithm would pick up Republicans. (Well, you know, if it quacks like a Nazi…)
- Iffy Medical News. Measles outbreaks are in the news again, with officials saying that we’ve reached a 25-year record high in documented cases. Hundreds of students and staff have been quarantined at UCLA, and officials are saying that people born before 1989 should get a booster shot. Apparently Trump agrees, and I enjoy thinking about what that will do to his voting base.
- Your Painfully Regular Bad Immigration Updates. The week in “how am I not making this up” news, the administration apparently considered putting migrant kids in Guantanamo Bay before dismissing the idea as bad optics (gee, you think?). Then Trump issued a memorandum threatening to mess with the visa process of 20 different countries — ostensibly because these countries have people who overstay their visas and fall out of status, but for the most part these countries aren’t the biggest sources of undocumented immigrants; they’re just — big shocker — a bunch of countries with populations of color. (The biggest source of immigrants who overstay visas, by the way, is actually Canada, who sends over about 88,000 people who fall out of status per year.) And a Massachusetts judge and clerk have been federally charged with obstruction of justice for helping a criminal defendant avoid ICE — which is a very big deal, because to my knowledge it’s the first time a public official has been charged this way. We’ll need to keep an eye on this, even though Massachusetts is rallying around the officials.
- Recent Court Resilience. In positive court news, the Kansas Supreme Judicial Court found that the Kansas constitution protects women’s right to choose. This is excellent news, because it guarantees that the state will retain the right even if SCOTUS rules otherwise — a state supreme judicial court is the highest authority on that state’s constitution. And on the federal side, an abortion gag rule put in place by the Trump administration was enjoined by a federal judge this week, which means it will be blocked until the case is resolved. So it was a bad week for measles, but a good week for reproductive rights.
So that’s what I have for this week, and some of last as well. For making it through, you deserve this squid checkup poetry and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me more hours in the day!